Practical guidelines for writing assessment criteria and standards

By Melanie Mills,2014-10-17 14:18
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Practical guidelines for writing assessment criteria and standards




    i. Review the Check that:

    Course Profile: ; course learning objectives clearly and comprehensively describe the learning to

    be developed by students

    ; the assessment tasks you have designed provide adequate opportunity for

    students to demonstrate intended learning objectives.

    ii. Clarify your It is important to understand the distinction between criteria and standards. A clear

    understanding understanding of these terms will make the development task easier. Sadler (1987)

    of the terms defines these terms as:

    „criteria‟ and Criterion: a property or characteristic by which the quality of something may be „standards‟ judged. Specifying criteria nominates qualities of interest and utility but does not

    have anything to offer, or make any assumptions about, actual quality.

    In the example below, the criterion “fluency of expression” is expressed as a noun phrase

    which does not imply a specific quality. It is better to avoid the use of adjectives or

    adverbs (eg” fluent expression”, “expression is fluentor “expresses ideas fluently) as

    these imply a level or standard rather than a criterion.

    Standard: a definite level of achievement aspired to or attained. Standards are

    about definite levels of quality (or achievement, or performance).

    Table 1: Distinguishing between criteria and standards

    Criteria Standards

    Fail standard Pass standard High standard

    (3-4 marks) (5-7 marks) (8-10 marks)

    quality of stilted, awkward and/or correct but occasionally clear, concise, scrupulously

    expression oversimplified expression stilted or awkward accurate polished and

    resulting in overall lack expression although sometimes innovative or

    of clarity of meaning. meaning is generally original language used to

    retained. express complex and abstract

    ideas and information

    The standards described in this example illustrate three distinct levels of quality,

    achievement or performance.

    While it is true that standard labels such as “Excellent”, “Proficient” or “Fail”, often used

    in conjunction with marks, can convey standards to some extent, the guidelines that follow

    are based on the belief that verbal descriptors (such as those in the example above) are the

    most effective way of supporting student learning. Criterion-and standards-referenced

    assessment does not require the use of marks or percentages, however, should marks or

    percentages be required, they can be assigned to the verbal descriptions as illustrated


    iii. Locate useful Institutional resources

    resources: ; 3.30.2 Marking and Award of Grades

    ; 3.20.5 Statement of Graduate Attributes

    ; Faculty, school or department resources (eg guidelines, models, exemplars)

    Personal resources

    ; Course Profile

    ; Course Assessment program

    ; Exemplars of student learning at different levels

    Assessment resource developed by Dr Clair Hughes (TEDI/The University of Queensland)

    Other resources

    ; Generic taxonomies

    o Bloom‟s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

    o Biggs structure of, the observed learning outcome (SOLO) taxonomy

    o Orrell, J. (2003). A Generic Learning Rubric. Available online at:


    o Price, M., & Rust, C. (2004). Assessment Grid. Retrieved 28 October, 2004, from

    20263&prompt=yes&filename=ASS016 (Business)

    ; Discipline-related guidelines or examples (eg from the Higher Education

    Academy subject network or general

    resource sections).

    iv. Investigate Developing criteria and standards in collaboration with colleagues is a good

    possibilities for opportunity to share the workload and gain additional perspectives.

    collaboration Involving students in the development of criteria and standards is an effective teaching

     and learning activity as well as a way of promoting shared understanding of the basis

    for assessment judgments.


    v. Select/develop Assessment criteria are intended to increase the transparency of assessment judgments

    and organise by alerting students to all the factors that will be considered in the making of criteria judgments. If criteria such as creativity‟ or „use of writing conventions (eg spelling,

     punctuation) are considered to be important to the assessment judgment, they should

    be included in the written criteria.

    Sources of criteria

    The criteria that will form the basis of assessment judgments should reflect the

    learning objectives of the course and should be worded and organised in a way that

    makes this obvious to students. (Bloom‟s Taxonomy is a useful resource.) If learning

    objectives have been grouped according to the UQ Graduate Attributes, criteria can

    also be organised according to this framework as illustrated below.

    Table 2: Linking learning objectives and criteria

    Learning Objective Assessment criteria

     In-depth knowledge of the field

    Demonstrate knowledge of literature relevant to ….. Familiarity with literature relevant to ...

     Effective Communication

    Communicate ideas and information in written and oral Appropriateness of citation and

    forms appropriate to the ….discipline referencing to the …discipline

     Critical judgment

    Develop and support arguments on current issues Development and support of arguments

    relating to …. relating to…

    Criteria for all the assessment tasks that comprise the course assessment program

    should together provide a comprehensive coverage of the major learning objectives of

    the course. They should not introduce additional learning objectives such as those

    implied by the selection of unfamiliar text types that have not been addressed during

    the teaching and learning activities of this or any prior courses (eg technical report,

    client interview). Rather, this new learning should be specified with the learning

    objectives of the course.

    To be effective, criteria should be manageable in number so the desire to be

    comprehensive needs to be tempered by a realistic notion of how much information

    students can handle in relation to an assessment task.

    Assessment resource developed by Dr Clair Hughes (TEDI/The University of Queensland)

    vi. Decide how Developing verbal descriptions of standards that make adequate distinctions between many standards and among each of the seven levels of the UQ grading scheme would be an extremely will be described difficult task. Most examples find it sufficient to describe four levels in answer to the

    following questions:

    ; What is the best possible standard that can be anticipated in this learning


    ; What is the least standard that will be considered acceptable?

    ; What standards lie between these two?

    ; What standard can be anticipated as unacceptable?

    Sadler, 1998

    However, the number of levels depends on the ability of the assessment task to make

    fine distinctions in a reliable way and the degree to which fine discrimination is

    required, eg a competency approach means a “Pass” standard only is required.

    Though some schemes avoid describing a “Fail” standard, this can be quite useful in

    helping students identify behaviours that they should eliminate from their practice.

    vii. “Label” the Verbal descriptions of standards need to be linked in some way to the model to be used

    verbal calculate final grades so that it describes and supports this process. Some examples are

    descriptors of provided below. Note that these are used to label verbal descriptions of standards, and

    standards do not serve as substitutes for standards.

    Table 3: Some common terms used to ‘label’ verbal descriptions of standards

    1-2 3-4 5 6-7 1. Grades

    D C B A 2. Letters

    0-39% 40-59% 60-89% 80-100% 3. % Bands

    0-4 5-10 11-16 17-20 4. Marks

    Fail Competent Advanced Excellent 5. Labels

    Of the examples above:

    1 links verbal standards to the university grade descriptors.

    2 is used by lecturers who prefer profiling.

    3 can be used when percentages are required (eg for the calculation of class of


    4 constitutes a simple marking scheme.

    5 uses general descriptive terms.

    Standards have to be pitched at a reasonable level. They should be neither so hard that no viii. Develop

    one can succeed nor so low that everyone succeeds at the highest level. clear descriptions

    of each standard They must also be described in brief, clear, specific language that is accessible to students.

    for each of the Criteria need to be „unpacked‟ before writing standards to identify relevant component criteria attributes. High standards will often incorporate additional attributes such as

    metacognitive understandings or originality of perspective.

    Accept that standards will never be able to carry all the detail of the explicit and

    implicit understandings students are to develop. Attempting to achieve levels of

    precision that remove all subjectivity from assessment judgements of complex

    learning will result in documents made unwieldy and therefore unfit for purpose

    through their length and obtuseness.

    Reference to concrete examples in course assessment tasks, examples of student work

    and exemplars obtained from previous iterations of the course will help in framing

    clear standards. Additional writing guidelines are provided in Table 4.

    Assessment resource developed by Dr Clair Hughes (TEDI/The University of Queensland)

Table 4: Developing verbal descriptions of standards

    When describing Use….. Rather than…. standards…

    Specify demonstrable Rephrases problems in own words Understands and behaviour and identifies major issues interprets problems Describe the behaviour - not the The ideas of others are You are not good at student acknowledged in ways outside the referencing

    conventions of this discipline

    Pointing out what was done in Argument consists of a series of No supporting evidence demonstrating lower than assertions only provided for arguments optimal standards is often more

    supportive of learning than

    listing what was not

    Avoid vague terms which are Evidence of familiarity with Evidence of appropriate open to a wide range of recommended course reading reading

    subjective interpretation such as Analysis demonstrates an “critical”, “appropriate”, awareness of the implications of Sophisticated analysis “excellent”, “analytical” significant detail

    Use terms likely to be Demonstrates comprehensive and Secure and pronounced understood by students avoid detailed knowledge of major facts, knowledge(Woolf, 2004) the obscure or esoteric concepts and procedures addressed

    in course materials

    Avoid relative terms - Major issues are identified with Analysis is more analytical comparatives are rarely helpful discrimination and without

    without a benchmark standard distraction by irrelevant material

    Solutions to problems are original More creative solutions and/or innovative without losing offered to problems feasibility presented

    Ensure a balance between References included have limited Includes two references validity and reliability ie don‟t relevance to the problem (low (low standard)

    seek precision through standard) Includes more than six quantitative statements which Discerning selection of references references (high standard) can trivialise complex learning from within and beyond outcomes. recommended course materials


    ix. Check, review, Check for:

    revise ; grammatical consistency

    ; alignment with institutional grade descriptors to maintain standards

    Regularly review your assessment criteria and standards to:

    ; benefit, through consultation, from the experience and expertise of peers

    ; respond to feedback from students

    ; ensure they fit adjusted assessment tasks

    ; maintain currency with changing university policy and regulations

    ; take advantage of new resources

    ; reflect your increasing expertise in their development.

    x. Using criteria To ensure that assessment judgements are defensible, consist and transparent, it is

    and standards essential that criteria and standards are used in conjunction with exemplars of student

    work and moderation processes. Formative activities such as practice marking, self and

    peer assessment, provision of feedback and structured reflection are additional ways of using criteria and standards for the enhancement of student learning.

    Assessment resource developed by Dr Clair Hughes (TEDI/The University of Queensland)

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